‘Scale Matters’ In Vertical Publishing Says TechMediaNetwork CEO Mason

techmedianetworkDigital-media buying may have moved from buying placement to buying audience, but vertical publishers are still gladly carrying the “contextual” torch as valuable audience continues to be attracted to niche content – an opportunity TechMediaNetwork is looking to exploit.

Having raised $33 million in 2011 in hopes of unseating other tech publisher networks such as CNET, TechMediaNetwork announced earlier this month it had acquired France-based Bestofmedia Group which owns IT “geek” sites such as Tom’s HardwareTom’s Guide and Tom’s IT Pro.

Bestofmedia CEO Greg Mason spoke to AdExchanger yesterday about his company’s vision and where “content, commerce and community” intersect with advertising.  Today, TechMediaNetwork’s headcount stands at 300 strong (100 coming over from Bestofmedia) and the combined company is enjoying a 25% growth trajectory year-over-year, Mason said.

AdExchanger: I’m curious about roll-up strategy. In general, why is “the roll-up” a good idea?

GREG MASON:   First, scale matters. It matters from a marketing standpoint — whether marketers want to execute high-touch, integrated programs or when monetizing traffic through programmatic means. The “Tom’s” brands by themselves were a top-10 Global Web property with 30 million global uniques, so it adds a big dimension of scale to our current portfolio and gives us a No. 5 ranking globally and a No. 3 ranking in the US [for tech publishing], according to comScore.

Secondly, and of equal importance, is the fact that where TechMediaNetwork has historically been strong is in performance marketing and commerce, whereas Bestofmedia has been stronger in content development and community development. We feel success in the tech vertical in the long term is going to be a function of how well digital publishers can unify commerce with content with community.

The third dimension of this acquisition was TechMediaNetwork had no international operations even though the TechMedia team has very strong positions in Italy, Germany and France.

You’re focused on B2C technology opportunities, not B2B, right?

It’s weighted more toward B2C, but we do have some B2B offerings. As it relates to Bestofmedia, Tom’s Hardware is a little bit of a mix between enthusiasts and B2B. We also have a brand called Tom’s IT Pro, which is obviously B2B.

You mentioned commerce, content and community and, briefly, mentioned programmatic media. From your perspective, what opportunities exist with paid advertising for TechMediaNetwork going forward?

It’s a significant part of that mix, but we’re probably not unique in this regard. We believe that advertising over time will be a relatively equal part of the mix. I’m not sure what the mix is. I’m sure it’s open to debate between premium high-touch advertising and programmatic advertising.  We’re betting on both horses and feel like we have a great opportunity.

So content, commerce and advertising – can those be managed holistically?

Increasingly, it is a hard mathematical problem when it gets down to the page level. The way we’re currently built is that [TechMediaNetwork’s] Top 10 Reviews is more commerce-based in its orientation and makes less of its revenue from advertising. Advertising is a component — both premium and programmatic — but we really make most of our money from commerce and what I would characterize as performance marketing. The distinction I’d put on performance marketing versus anything that you might put under the advertising banner is that it’s more affiliate-based, direct referral-based, more lead-based — those kinds of dimensions are performance marketing.

What are your thoughts on native advertising and how that may work for TechMediaNetwork?

I think native advertising is a lot to do about nothing. I think of it as custom integrations on behalf of marketers.

But I do love the fact that there are all of these platforms out there that enable us to scale the delivery of those [native-advertising] campaigns. It’s a lot easier than a couple of years ago and goes across a broader base of sites and with smarter targeting. Whether we utilize a native format for the delivery of premium-oriented campaigns or even programmatic campaigns, I don’t necessarily have a horse in the race. I think we can win on both dimensions.

As a publisher, are you thinking at all about the buy-side marketing, the publisher-as-a-buyer and being more aggressive in enabling your content as well as advertiser campaigns? I’m also thinking about enabling the commerce leg of your business here. 

Definitely. We’re testing and utilizing a variety of different techniques. We’re obviously using some SEM, but we’re also aggressively using services like Outbrain and different things like that. I don’t know that it’s going to be the core of our business. I’d like to think that within the context of our branded portfolio that we can always satisfy the targeting or the reach requirements of a particular marketer. We obviously ought to utilize other off-network services as much as we can. As you know it’s a little bit of a math game. Can you do it efficiently? We’ve had a variety of examples of where it’s worked well and other examples where it hasn’t worked so well. I’m a big believer that [buying is] going to be a component of our business model as we go forward.

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